January 16, 2022: Unexpected Differences
Despite being so close (just a tiny bridge) from Grand Terre, Basse Terre is a world of its own. The island is volcanic and mountainous. The volcano has created rich soils where all types of plants can grow. Therefore, the island is mostly covered in a thick jungle.
While circumnavigating the island is easy, there is only a single road which crosses the rugged interior of the island: D23. The start of the road was just 15 minutes from the airport.
It was surreal to be driving in the thickest of jungle on a perfectly maintained European-quality road. In my experience, most tropical places have terrible roads due to jungles usually being in poor countries and the difficulty in maintaining the roads due to weather. I blasted music and drove in a dreamlike state.
After a quick stop for a roadside sugar cane juice, my first stop was the Cascade aux Ecrevisses. A short hike took me to a stunning 7-meter waterfall with a swimming pool underneath.
A bit further up the road, I found a 1-hour circuit hike through the jungle. The path was muddy and full of puddles. It took a much effort to keep my feet dry.
Exhilarated, I then drove 25 minutes down to the west side of Basse Terre to the town of Pointe-Noire (not to be confused with Pointe-Noire, Congo which I visited in 2018).
With limited daylight, I drove 25 more minutes north to the most famous beach in the territory, Grand Anse. The beach is considered Guadeloupe´s best beach. It has everything you could possibly want: perfect yellow sand, warm water, jungle for shade.
Nearby there were a few vendors selling homemade sorbet coco. It was crowded but still peaceful.
For the sunset, I drove into the town of Deshaies, which has gotten newfound fame for being the filming location of the British/French TV show Death in Paradise. The town is tiny but has a great vibe along the main street surrounding the port. As I walked through, families parties on the beach as the sun set.
Back at the hostel, the owners invited me to a communal dinner. The other guests were 3 middle aged French men and 3 younger French girls- everyone was from a different French city. They all reluctantly chatted in English with me. We chatted for about 3 hours. We started out by talking about how Parisians are so mean. I compared it to how people think New Yorkers are mean- I think that it is not so much a Paris thing, but rather a big city thing.
There was a lot of trashing the English. One girl said that British accents are sexier than American accents and the others were visibly upset by this. We talked about the metric and imperial systems and how its so silly that the Americans use a different measuring system from the rest of the world. They said it was because of the British. Ha!
The hostel owners were from Luxembourg and Croatia. They made a Haitian stew with melted cheese on top…because the French love melted cheese on everything.
By the end of the night after a wonderful conversation, I was once again reminded why I love the hostel life.
January 17, 2022: La Grande Soufrière
I saved Guadeloupe´s top activity for the end: La Grande Soufrière. This volcano is the highest point in all the Lesser Antilles (the tiny islands in the eastern Caribbean). The last big eruption occurred in 1976, which caused the entire island to evacuate. However, the volcano is still rumbling and is considered to be active.
Le Grande Soufriere is notoriously difficult to climb – not because of the difficulty of the hike, but because of the weather. As the highest peak in the area, it attracts all the clouds. On the rare nice days, the car park fills up fast.
Today happened to be a nice day. Per the recommendations of the hostel, I woke up at 6:00 am to drive to the volcano. The drive took 75 minutes. Martin Luther King Day is not a holiday in France (shocker), so I ran into some morning school and work traffic.
In the town of Basse Terre, the actual capital of Guadeloupe, I headed inland and drove uphill towards the volcano. After a long windy drive, I reached the parking lot, which was already full. Luckily, there was plenty of street parking available.
The climb started in the jungle, but quickly ascended above it into a shrub-filled forest.
The trail then continued up the steep slope of the volcano, now fully visible from the trial. Midway through, I got caught up in a horrendous rainstorm. While I was able to hide under a tree, I still got soaked!
Near the top, the path steep end there was a bit of Class 2 hand climbing, but nothing crazy.
Eventually, the trail leveled off and forked. On the left fork, there was a big KEEP OUT sign (in French) advising people not to continue on. Per the recommendation of my hostel owner, I ignored the sign and kept going. I then reached the active fumarole – a giant hole in the ground surrounded by a big fence. Gasses spewed out of the abyss. I could feel the heat and the occasional rumbling!
Honestly, I was a little scared and only stayed here for a couple minutes.
Back at the fork, I continued to the right and trekked the final 400 meters to the summit. The final 50 meters were on the summit plateau, which was so windy I almost fell down. The cold weather was also starting to affect me.
I then headed back down to the car and passed by at least 100 French tourists on their way up. Somehow the entire trip took me just 2 hours even though all the signs and guidebooks say 4 hours. Guess I was on the move!
Back at the car, it was time to start the drive back to the airport. On the way, I stopped for a roadside snack of cassava pancakes.
Then, I drove to the Montebello rum distillery. This is the oldest operating distillery on the island. Everything is done “the traditional way” using the original machinery from the 1800´s. This means that the only ingredient in the rum is sugar cane and water. There are no spices added.
The distillery had essentially no rules for visitors and I was free to roam wherever I pleased. I did find a visitor center and received a free tasting.
For a final stop, I went to a modern shopping mall near the airport that had all the big European chains. Since I had trashed my shoes on the volcano hike, I bought some shoes in Decathlon.
With that, I drove to the airport to head home.
Guadeloupe has it all. The nature on Grand Terre is pretty but Basse Terre is leagues better. The French and Creole cultures are visible and very accessible here. The islands have EU infrastructure and are safe. The island is far more affordable than most other Caribbean islands. And there are a variety of sights to see. I could easily see myself spending a few more days in Guadeloupe and would wholeheartedly recommend it to any traveler.